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  1. #21
    MembersZone Subscriber npfd801's Avatar
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    The eternal commercial vs. custom debate. Everyone can probably get by with either (our nearest big city runs M2's ragged, and ran Ford C's until the bodies fell off), and a lot of 150 run a year departments run nothing but custom.

    If you compare the Spartan Big Easy and HME P2e to a 4-door commercial, all with 330-horse motors, I think you'll find the price difference to be about $30K, maximum. My numbers might be off a little, but with new '07 motor pricing and such, I'm getting mixed up on pricing.

    We have a less than one year old IH 4-door 4wd (not custom due to the cost of adding 4wd to a custom chassis). I really like the rig, but the interior is certainly not of the quality of Spartan and HME, and the interior space is less. The IH engine is fine, no problems. I'm still not 100% certain that a Cummins is/was available in the IH7400 series chassis, but I'd probably go that route if possible as everything else we run is Cummins. Note for '07 your choices in the M2 will be Mercedes and Cummins. The Cat C7 will not be a choice in the M2 for '07.

    The comment of local service is funny - our IH has been in for some minor warranty issues, and our local IH dealer is a joke. Our rig has been in their shop for the last time. Last time they re-flashed the ECM, they forgot to make it work with the FRC governor. Oops. The last of many mistakes... We'll be giving our IH service business to the dealer 30 miles north.

    Custom advantages:
    1.) Tighter turning - shorter wheelbase.
    2.) Tighter turning - better cramp angle (but check this for sure.)
    3.) More space for crew and equipment.
    4.) Longer lasting, purpose built cab.
    5.) Better warranty (verify this as well) for a custom cab.
    6.) Better, enhanced crash protection especially for rollover.
    7.) Ingress and egress are arguably easier on a custom.
    8.) Aluminum cab construction on a custom (though FL is aluminum now too)

    There's probably more. We're all custom for everything but our 4x4 interface unit and our light stuff, so having everything the same is also nice.


  2. #22
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    When we were spec'ing our engine out 2 years ago it was roughly $15,000 more for the Spartan Big Easy than the Navistar 4 door. It was an easy choice to pick the Spartan for the reasons mentioned.

    This was on a Darley who doesn't have their own cab and chassis line. Several mfg's who do make their own chassis are starting to allow customers to spec Spartan as well.

    Another advantage I haven't seen mentioned is the flexibility with mounting equipment in the cab. We have our irons, closet hooks, sledge securely mounted in the cab as well as our light boxes and imager. Each seat assignment has its tools close at hand without going through exterior compartments.

  3. #23
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    "The comment of local service is funny - our IH has been in for some minor warranty issues, and our local IH dealer is a joke. Our rig has been in their shop for the last time. Last time they re-flashed the ECM, they forgot to make it work with the FRC governor. Oops. The last of many mistakes... We'll be giving our IH service business to the dealer 30 miles north."

    As with any business, there are the good and the not so good. At least, since you're working with a truck dealer, especially one like IH where the next one's usually not that far away, you have the opportunity to go elsewhere. If the nearest repair facility for the apparatus builder is 120 miles away, where's the next nearest?

    I do have to add another point - Every freedom carries with it a responsibility. I made the statement that our fire apparatus is, for the most part, made from the same components as a highway truck. npfd801 ran into an important variant. A tech in any given truck shop is accustomed to working on generic trucks (Sounds like I'm beginning to argue against my own position, doesn't it?). In order to be successful at working on our fire truck, the tech needs certain information; unless he's into fire vehicles, he's not even going to be aware that stuff like pump controllers have to be taken into consideration.

    So if we want the freedom to go to the local truck dealer, we have to accept the responsibility to make sure that the tech is made aware of our special stuff. That, in turn, sticks us with the additional responsibility to be aware of the kinds of things the tech may need to be told, and to be capable of communicating it to him.

    Truck shops today, especially the ones that work on vocational trucks, see such a huge variety of different configurations (cement mixers are different from beverage trucks which are different from fuel oil delivery trucks and so on), that it should not be a problem for them to deal with our stuff, as long as they are made aware of it.

    Some people may not feel comfortable handling matters this way. Some may take the position that PRS Company built the truck, it's their responsibility, if there's a problem, I'm calling them, let them handle it. That's a perfectly valid approach, I don't want to seem to fault anyone for doing it that way. Me, I'm just trading on what I learned in my 30 plus years in the trucking business including 12 years as an owner/driver (and fixer) of one.

    As the founder of company that I retired from was fond of saying, "That's why they make vanilla and chocolate."

    Stay safe out there, everyone goes home!

  4. #24
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    One of the reported reasons for custom over commercial was Safety. I couldn't agree more! One need only to review any number of apparatus accidents to see the damage and injuries are far worse in commercial chassis. Mike Wilbur's CEVO class has a significant portion dedicated to this. I think he's designed it to show people that you have to look beyuond initial cost and think of these things that "never happen". We've never had a mojor accident, so should we ignore the potential for it to happen today?

    Commercial chassises are not industry specific. Basically they build a product and you decide if it will meet your needs(fire truck, dump truck, trash hauler).You like the price (what other real reason is there?) so you spec a truck using this chassis. The dealer says OK are you sure you wouldn't rather have it on our custom chassis for just $XXX more? You say no, we'd rather have $XXX more equipment (or sadly, toys, LEDs, sirens). Then the manufacturer builds you the truck you've decided on. The chassis wasn't designed to hold up in a rollover, it was designed to keep the price down (the reason you selected it). Its Quanity over Quality. Sell more, make more. Commercial trucks are usually longer and taller than their custom equivalents. Now you've got a truck thats bigger both lengthwise and taller, carrying more people, at higher speeds than normal traffic, with drivers who spend about 1% of the time behind the wheel compared to the majority of drivers operating "commercial" cabs? Now, operate the truck on the wrong side of the road at a negative right of way intersection. Add a little adrenaline and you've got a NIOSH report waiting to happen. BTW- How often does a trash truck driver feel the adrenaline rush while on his route?

    Custom chassis: Designed for the fire service. Has reinforcements for seating configurations and tool mounting options that we design. Extended frame for the extended bumpers (check your warranty for a commercial chassis with an aftermarket extended bumper!) Built in crashworthiness (with testing). A lower center of gravity to keep all six (or more) on the ground. When this accident happens you'll kow that you at leat provided your firefighters with a proeprly designed fire apparatus that was built with their safety in mind!

  5. #25
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    Just a note: there's a great article/editorial by Tom Parks in the recent Fire Appratus magazine. He's the fleet manager for Cherry Hill NJ FD. Having met Tom and seen his operation and listened to him, I found that he knows more about his business than most fire apparatus mechanics could even hope to learn. His point was that the new 2007 emmissions standards should have be exempted for fire apparatus. Given the unknown consequences when these new chassises are married to pumps for long periods, we can only hope that they don't fail at a greater rate than currently. Tom, calls for us (the fire service) to speak with a united voice and try to lobby against these types of standards which have negative consequences.

    If this were to happen (too late now? maybe the 2010) the commercial chassises would have to meet the standards and the customs would not. This would level the price playing field and in the end departments would buy more customs,as it would be more expensive to get a "green" commecial chassis.

  6. #26
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    While I agree that fire apparatus should be exempted, due to low operating hours, low lifetime mileage accumulation, and potential loss of life from equipment failure, I would have to point out that all legislation that I have ever seen that refers to fire apparatus or "authorized emergency vehicles" does not differentiate between custom or commercial cab, factory built or home built, etc. Most likely any exemptions available on customs would also be made available on commercials, if they wanted to keep selling fire trucks.

    Birken

  7. #27
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    It is hard to believe that International, Ford, GM, Freightliner and other big commercial chassis manufacturers would create a separate line for fire apparatus as it is such a small part of the overall production for them. The changes seem significant enouh that the main production lines would have to be separate? I'll bet none of them cares about the small percentage of business enough to go through with a special line.

  8. #28
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    They don't have to create a separate line, they just have to order and drop a different engine and exhaust system in the same existing chassis. This is the way they have always done it, they build what the customer orders. The changes are to engines and exhaust only. The worst that could happen is there would be an empty space on the chassis where some unused emissions gadget would have gone.

    Birken

  9. #29
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    I'm a bit amused by the trash truck/fire truck analogy. If one remembers correctly,not long ago in New York,all the heavy rescues,a few pumpers and the trash haulers all shared the same Mack MR chassis.Few things in the world are built to stand the rigorous enviornment of the refuse industry,fire operations included.Are there poorly specced commercial fire apparatus? Yes there are.But there is some pi** poor examples of customs out there as well.And in working around truck wrecks most of my life,I DO NOT see this clear cut demarcation between commercial and custom.Post crash results in either case are generally catagorised as a FUBARED "total"losses. I've got a chip hauler in the lot right now that went thru a 6"reinforced basement wall.The driver walked away.And this was a commercial truck.In this instance a custom wouldn't have faired any better.In a rollover they might but a lot of rollover survivability comes as a combination of cab and fire body.it used to be easy,do ya want a Ford,Chevy,or cornbaler.Today,the choices are many and the pricing between the two(custom/commercial)is getting closer to even. So spec well and wisely and you will have a safe unit that will give you many years of service. T.C.

  10. #30
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    marion makes a two door custom cab. kust a thought.
    if you dont think you can fit everything in a cammercail cab then buy an extended commercial cab, and replace the tight bench seat with cabinents, and the additional window with a full length roll up door. have a look at the recent post about elite--custom cab for cheap there.

  11. #31
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    i also forgot that you could put a custom cab on either a traditional engine forward or mack MR. we have an enclosed cab on our MR, and fort gary industries and pierce both make raised roof cabs on commercial chassis.

  12. #32
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    For the pupose of clarification maybe we need to differentiate between commercial, custom cabs and sole source custom cabs. I don't see how adding a roof extension to a Mack MR makes it a custom cab/chassis? Yes, its been customized, but so has my Tahoe!

    In my view a commerical cab/chassis is one that is a available to any type of dealer/manufacturer (not that they all will build on them) including trash trucks, cement mixers, etc. So in this case I view the Ford, Freightliners, Mack, GMC, etc as commercial.

    Custom cabs for the purposes we're discussing, in my view, are those made specifically for the fire service, but available for use by anyone who can or will build one them. HME and Spartan (are there others?).

    Lastly, the custom cab/chassis that are made by the fire apparatus manufacturer. Not the badged others, but those truly built by the same company. ALF, Ferrara, E-One, Peirce, KME, Crimson(?).

  13. #33
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    from the crimson web site it appears that they make the bodies only, and usually mount them on spartan. i refer to the MR as commercail. in addition i cannot tell if the marion two door is theirs or a spartan that was shortened. its called a predator.

  14. #34
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    Yes, Crimson does use Spartan Chassis. If you check the Crimson website further you will probably also read that Crimson is owned by Spartan.

  15. #35
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    as far as manueverablility, the custom,, all thing being equal will have a shorter wheelbase and thus a shorter turning radius

    OTOH, many of the new commercial trucks, especially marketed towards the fire industry, have the same 45į cramp angle as most custom units. It could be that a new commercial will turn as tightly as a 10-15 year old custom cab.

    Several years ago, while speccing our rescue engine, we noticed that some custom cab /fire specific builders were pushing the bigger is better theory, and so a couple "standard" cabs sold as 4 or 6 man cabs were basically the same size as an 8 man monstrosity. At this point, the length grows very close to a similar 4 door commercial cab.

    in skimming this thread, I have not noticed engine availability. If you want a large displacement, high horsepower engine you might not find it readily available in the commercial cab/chassis aimed at the fire market

    so if you think that you need a Series 60 Detroit to run your 2000 gpm/3000 gallon tandem super duper pumper tanker, it may be almost as cost effective to go with a custom as with a commercial. The commercial cab/chassis cost less than a custom cab/chassis because it is a high volume/cookie cutter truck. For a lot of departments, a crew cab commercial engine with a 330 hp Cummins ISC, or similar IH or Benz engine with a 1250 gpm pump/750 water will be plenty, and maybe a lot better than what it may be replacing. If you want a bigger engine - the cost goes up. The question is how much. This will vary both by manufacturer of the commercial cab/chassis and the fire service body builder/mounter. at this point, the commercial may be priced close to the custom so that you will go ahead and but the custom.

    Some of the Mack cab/chassis are an exception, but I haven't seen to many fire trucks recently built on a mack commercial cab/chassis

  16. #36
    MembersZone Subscriber npfd801's Avatar
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    May be worth noting that some of the custom fire apparatus chassis are now pushing 50 degree cramp angles.

    Mack makes some obviously very durable chassis, however they don't make their chassis as "fire service" friendly, and from what I've gathered require a little more work on the part of the body builder than even most other commercial chassis makes. Not to mention they don't have a 4-door in the mix unless a builder grafts something on to a Mack cab. From what I've seen though, the Granite makes a great tanker chassis.

    So many variables influence the differences depending on what you buy for a custom chassis when comparing to a commercial. You could buy an HME SFO chassis and probably have comparable interior room to a commercial chassis, and and be MUCH shorter. You could go a little longer and have the extra seat that a six man custom cab medium four door will give you over a commercial cab. Go even longer and then you introduce storage options (EMS cabinet, compartments under a rear bench seat accessible from the exterior, compartments just behind the officer and engineer's seats) that really would add even more length to the body of a commercial chassis rig to get comparable storage space.

    I think once you go to the big dog motors in the commercial stuff, your net savings is still going to be what you see between say a Big Easy and a P2E to a comparable commercial. Just because you need to go to a Gladiator or Diamond, P2 or whatever to get the bigger motor doesn't mean you have to option the hell out of the cab and get all of the bells and whistles, though the 46 direction adjustable massaging SCBA seats I'm told are very nice.

    On a different thread here, but the MBE 900 (I believe that's the designation) in the Freightliners is available in 330 horse trim for fire service applications, much like the IH DT570 is, and the ISC, C7, etc... I know there's no substitute for displacement when making power, but there's also no substitute for inadequate funding either...

  17. #37
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    At this point Commercial vs Custom has almost been reduced to Conventional vs Cabover, beyond the layout of the cab there isn't alot of difference in the parts. Yes when it comes to safety there are trade offs and a Custom may be built a little tougher for roll overs, kind of like buying a Ford vs a Volvo, but if that is really why you are spec'ing out the custom then I hope you are shopping around the various custom builders to get the one with the most roll over protection but I'd guess few actually do that.

    Back in the day a Custom was exactly that custom, not just a cab design but different motor with redundancies built in (dual ignition etc), and other specific to the chassis parts. These days for the most part the components between the two are basically the same, just depends on which commercial truck builder the custom fabricator is connected to.

    A custom is nice but a commercial can get the job done. I'm seeing comments about how the commercial is designed to be thrown away after 5-7 years, simply not true we run our engines 15+ years, in some of the toughest fire service conditions you will find (off road, long pumping hours, lots of miles put on them, run hard all summer, parked most of the winter, many left outside) most could easily continue to be run for a few more years, window cranks, door handles, hinges etc are rarely an issue.

    Space in the cab was another issue brought up, we are running an International 4900 4 door cab with a 10" extension, there is plenty of room for the 3 firefighters in the back, more that many of the older (late 80's) customs I worked in, in fact it seems like a ball room compared to the E-One I worked on, I had to have my coat and scba put on as I entered the cab, I simply didn't have room to get my arms through the scba straps while sitting in the seat because of the dog house.

    As far as price goes maybe it is down to $30,000 but if your spending $250,000 - $300,000 on a new pumper, that $30,000 is alot of money, could be the difference between a stripped down custom and a well equipped commercial. Just some thoughts of what I could do with an extra $30,000, Class A foam or CAFS, Generator and lighting system, 4x4, TIC(s), upgraded powertrain systems etc. If you are buying several pieces of apparatus that quickly could be another vehicle.

    Customs are nice and have their place but commercial cabs are definately an option, particularly for rural areas where overall length may not be an issue. Even length doesn't really have to be a factor, if the body is designed well you can fit enough onto a short wheelbase, maybe not everything you want but at least everything you need.

  18. #38
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    Well I disagree somewhat, around here I consider a cabover to be essential because the area is rural and mountainous, therfore the roads are narrow and no room to turn around. But we are a structural fire department primarily so we need an engine with a cab that can haul 4 firefighters, a body that can carry a 14' and 24' ladder, and in order to get that on a reasonably sized truck chassis you have to get a compact custom cab and a body that has the ladders all the way up to the rear of the cab.

    That being said, out of my station I drive a Pierce Lance with the big long cab and a 35' ladder, and a 3 axle water tender that has to be 35' long all by itself. However with that water tender especially I seem to spend as much time driving backwards as I do driving forwards.

    Birken

  19. #39
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    My main point was that really it comes down to the motor in front of the wheels or behind them. If you need to have the absolute shortest wheelbase possible you want a cab over engine design. All the rest is basically personal preference and semanitics.

    Can you really tell me that a commercial cabover with a crew compartment added? (think USFS model 61 or CDF model 9) would not work nearly as well as a custom 4 "man" cab? The customs are nice if you can afford them but hardly the mandatory requirement some make them out to be.

    But I also wonder with so many that have the opinion that commercial cabs are substandard "trash haulers" and it is just a little bit more money, why don't we see more custom wildland rigs, they need a short wheelbase, they have a good chance to roll over, they need to carry lots of equipment but I would guess that not even 1% are built on a custom chassis. The argument that they are too small doesn't cut it for me, many were built on the Ford C-series and International Cargostar cabovers when they were available.

    Where are the custom command trucks, air/light units, rescues, tenders etc? There are some but the majority are built on commercial chassis. My guess is custom cabs are largely tradition, "real" pumpers and trucks are built on a custom but all those other rigs are ok on a commercial chassis.

    Not bashing Customs, they are nice and I'd usually take one if given the option, I'm just saying you can build a very good piece of apparatus on a commercial chassis.

  20. #40
    Forum Member HFRH28's Avatar
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    I am anti-4 door commercial, they're too big with too much wasted space.
    I have seen 4 door customs shorter over all cab length than a 2 door commercial
    Here's a good example:
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Service is the rent you pay for having space on earth.

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